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Mercury Found in Soil Near Central Indiana Coal Power Plants

Coal at a power plant (Sierra Club/Flickr)A study by researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis found that measurable amounts of mercury emitted by coal-fired power plants are deposited in central Indiana soil and can subsequently enter regional watersheds. The findings by earth scientists Carrie Lynne Hatcher (now at University of Toronto) and Gabriel Filippelli appear in the journal Water, Air, and Soil Pollution; paid subscription required.

Hatcher and Filippelli tested soil samples near coal-fired power plants in central Indiana, which includes the state’s largest city Indianapolis. The researchers also tested soil samples downwind from the power plants, mainly northeast of the city. Using the unique chemical signature of the emissions, the scientists detected mercury concentrations in the soil near the power plants, but also in the path of prevailing wind patterns far from the plants themselves.

Mercury emissions in urban areas can also be carried in rainwater runoff. Since cities have a large number of impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots, mercury can enter waterways quickly. In the case of central Indiana, mercury carried to the northeast by prevailing winds then ran off into streams, and got carried back in the waterways to the southwest.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported in November 2010 that mercury concentrations in Indiana watersheds “routinely exceeded criteria protective of humans and commonly exceeded criteria protective of wildlife.” The report said one in seven fish in Indiana contain mercury in levels not fit for human consumption.

Mercury poisoning can cause permanent neurological damage in humans. Pregnant women and their fetuses are especially susceptible to mercury, which can enter the body through consumption of contaminated fish.

Read more: Testing Labs Score Well Finding Heavy Metals in Seafood

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